Those who have read Imagining
Robert, Jay Neugeboren's excellent memoir about his brother Robert's
lifelong struggle with mental illness, his family, and the psychiatric
authorities, or who have seen the recent documentary film based on the book,
also called Imagining Robert, will feel they already know Robert. Jay has consistently testified to his
brother's creativity and insightfulness in his books, and Robert's charismatic
personality stands out in the scenes featuring him. The Hillside Diary and Other Writings has three sections
of Robert's writing after Jay's Introduction.
First, there are Robert's diary entries from when he was nineteen years
old, over a period of nearly six weeks, and he was staying at Hillside
psychiatric residence in Long Island in April to May, 1962. Next is a short section of Robert's poetry,
and finally is a selection of letters from Robert to various family members,
from 1956 to 1978.
I found the first two sections
rather hard going. Robert chronicles
the events of his days in his diaries when he was at Hillside. He writes about other patients and family
members who readers know nothing of, and the small events that go to make up
his days are not very interesting. One
does not get a very clear impression of what is wrong with Robert or what
symptoms he has. It seems that his
treatment is mainly talk therapy, and he reflects a little on his life, but not
a whole lot. Robert's poetry is
important to him, and it is quite easy to read, but it is very personal to him,
and most readers will not get much out of the poems.
By far the most interesting part of
the book is Robert's letters, which set out details that might be interesting
to his reader. Even though they are
personal, they are understandable and they carry great emotional weight. We see Robert's brilliance and love,
especially in his letters to his brother Jay, and his growing anger and
disappointment over the years as he finds himself spending his life in mental
hospitals while his brother gains a wife, children, and a successful career as
a writer, living in France for a while, and then getting a job at a
Massachusetts college. Robert remains a
serious and thoughtful reader of contemporary novels and other serious works,
and he makes interesting comments about them.
Occasionally it is clear that he is going through a time of particular
turmoil, but for the most part there is very little sign that he has a serious
mental illness, apart from his address.
This collection of Robert
Neugeboren's writing will mostly be of interest to those who have been
profoundly moved by Jay's writing about his brother, or the documentary made
about him. It lets Robert speak for
himself and shows what a vital personality he has.
Review of Imagining
Review of Transforming
Website for Imagining
University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation
© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of
the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at
Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online
Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine,
psychiatry and psychology.